Cass Sunstein - Political/Financial Stances

From KeyWiki
Jump to: navigation, search
Cass Sunstein

Cass Sunstein (born September 21, 1954) is the husband of Samantha Power. He is an American legal scholar, particularly in the fields of constitutional law, administrative law, environmental law and law and behavioral economics. Sunstein has served as the Administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs since April, 2009. For 27 years, Sunstein taught at the University of Chicago Law School, where he still teaches as the Harry Kalven Visiting Professor. Sunstein is currently Professor of Law at Harvard Law School, where he is on leave while working in the Obama administration. His position within the hierarchy of the administration has earned him the non-official title of 'Regulatory Czar' and he is considered by many to be the most dangerous man in America. Visit the main page on Cass Sunstein here...


In 1993 Sunstein published the book The Partial Constitution, which contains a chapter titled "It's the government's Money," wherein Sunstein writes that “the Constitution ... forbids government from refusing to pay the expenses of abortion in cases of rape or incest, at least if government pays for childbirth in such cases.” According to Sunstein, a system whereby the government funds childbirth but not abortion "has the precise consequence of turning women into involuntary incubators" and "breeders" whose bodies are sacrificed "in the service of third parties" (i.e., fetuses).[1]

With regard to citizens who object to having their tax dollars finance abortions, Sunstein states the following:

"There would be no tension with the establishment clause if people with religious or other objections were forced to pay for that procedure (abortion). Indeed, taxpayers are often forced to pay for things – national defense, welfare, certain forms of art, and others – to which they have powerful moral and even religious objections."

Animal Rights

Glenn Beck on Cass Sunstein, July 30, 2009

Some of Sunstein's work has addressed the question of animal rights, as he co-authored a book dealing with the subject, has written papers on it and was an invited speaker at "FACING ANIMALS," an event at Harvard University described as "a groundbreaking panel on animals in ethics and the law."[2] “Every reasonable person believes in animal rights,” he says, continuing that "we might conclude that certain practices cannot be defended and should not be allowed to continue, if, in practice, mere regulation will inevitably be insufficient — and if, in practice, mere regulation will ensure that the level of animal suffering will remain very high."[3]

Sunstein's views on animal rights generated controversy when Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) blocked his appointment to the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs by Obama. Chambliss objected to the introduction of Animal Rights: Current Debates and New Directions, a volume edited by Sunstein and his then-partner Martha Nussbaum. On page 11 of the introduction, during a philosophical discussion about whether animals should be thought of as owned by humans, Sunstein notes that personhood need not be conferred upon an animal in order to grant it various legal protections against abuse or cruelty, even including legal standing for suit. For example, under current law, if someone saw their neighbor beating a dog, they currently cannot sue for animal cruelty because they do not have legal standing to do so. Sunstein suggests that granting standing to animals, actionable by other parties, could decrease animal cruelty by increasing the likelihood that animal abuse will be punished.

From Discover the Networks:

Sunstein is an animal-rights activist who once said, in a speech at Harvard University: “We ought to ban hunting, if there isn’t a purpose other than sport and fun. That should be against the law. It’s time now.” He also has stated that livestock and wild animals should have legal “rights” and should be empowered to file lawsuits; that the human consumption of meat is a practice that should be ended permanently; and that the use of animals for work, entertainment, science, and food is akin to “human slavery.” "[T]here should be extensive regulation of the use of animals in entertainment, scientific experiments, and agriculture," Sunstein wrote in a 2002 working paper while at the University of Chicago Law school. He expanded on these ideas in his 2004 book Animal Rights: Current Debates and New Directions.

From Right Wing News:

[R]epresentatives of animals should be able to bring private suits to ensure that anticruelty and related laws are actually enforced. Of course, any animals would be represented by human beings, just like any other litigant who lacks ordinary (human) competence; for example, the interests of children are protected by prosecutors, and also by trustees and guardians in private litigation brought on children's behalf. … If getting rid of the idea that animals are property is helpful in reducing suffering, then we should get rid of the idea that animals are property.

Bill Clinton

Sunstein played an active role in opposing the impeachment of Bill Clinton in 1998.[4]

Climate Change

In 2007, Sunstein co-authored (with fellow attorney Eric A. Posner) a paper titled "Climate Change Justice," which held that it was "desirable" for America to pay "justice" to poorer nations by entering into a compensation agreement that would result in a financial loss for the United States. The paper refers several times to "distributive justice."[1]

Sunstein and Posner further speculate about the possibility of achieving this redistribution by means other than direct payments:

  • "It is even possible that desirable redistribution is more likely to occur through climate change policy than otherwise, or to be accomplished more effectively through climate policy than through direct foreign aid."
  • "We agree that if the United States does spend a great deal on emissions reductions as part of an international agreement, and if the agreement does give particular help to disadvantaged people, considerations of distributive justice support its action, even if better redistributive mechanisms are imaginable."
  • "If the United States agrees to participate in a climate change agreement on terms that are not in the nation's interest, but that help the world as a whole, there would be no reason for complaint, certainly if such participation is more helpful to poor nations than conventional foreign-aid alternatives."
  • "If we care about social welfare, we should approve of a situation in which a wealthy nation is willing to engage in a degree of self-sacrifice when the world benefits more than that nation loses."


Sunstein has very controversial views on cloning. In his viewpoint, cloning should pose no moral dilemma because human embryos are "only a handful of cells."[1]

In a 2002 paper (titled "Is There a Constitutional Right to Clone?") for the Harvard Law Review, Sunstein wrote:

"Moral repugnance might well be a response to vaguely remembered science fiction stories or horror movies, or to perceptions based on ignorance and confusion (as in the idea that a clone is a complete 'copy' of the original, or a 'copy' that is going to be evil)."

Added Sunstein:

"For some people, cloning might be the only feasible way to produce a biological offspring. It would certainly not be ludicrous to say that as a matter of constitutional law, the state has to produce a strong justification for intruding on that choice in cases in which it is the only realistic option."

In 2003 Sunstein wrote:

"It is silly to think that 'potential' is enough for moral concern [about cloning]. Sperm cells have 'potential' and (not to put too fine a point on it) most people are not especially solicitous about them.”

Conspiracy Theories

Sunstein co-authored a 2008 paper with Adrian Vermeule, titled "Conspiracy Theories," dealing with the risks and possible government responses to false conspiracy theories resulting from "cascades" of faulty information within groups that may ultimately lead to violence. In this article they wrote, "The existence of both domestic and foreign conspiracy theories, we suggest, is no trivial matter, posing real risks to the government’s anti-terrorism policies, whatever the latter may be." They go on to propose that, "the best response consists in cognitive infiltration of extremist groups",[5] where they suggest, among other tactics, "Government agents (and their allies) might enter chat rooms, online social networks, or even real-space groups and attempt to undermine percolating conspiracy theories by raising doubts about their factual premises, causal logic or implications for political action." They refer, several times, to groups that promote the view that the US Government was responsible or complicit in the September 11 attacks as "extremist groups."

Sunstein and Vermeule also analyze the practice of secret government payments to outside commentators, who are then held out as independent experts; they suggest that "government can supply these independent experts with information and perhaps prod them into action from behind the scenes," further warning that "too close a connection will be self-defeating if it is exposed." Sunstein and Vermeule argue that the practice of enlisting non-government officials, "might ensure that credible independent experts offer the rebuttal, rather than government officials themselves. There is a trade-off between credibility and control, however. The price of credibility is that government cannot be seen to control the independent experts." This position has been criticized by some commentators,[6] who argue that it would violate prohibitions on government propaganda aimed at domestic citizens.[7]

Here is what the government can and should do about conspiracy theories according to a memo from Cass Sunstein:[8]

  • The government might ban 'conspiracy theories.' The definition of what a 'conspiracy theory' is will be left to the government to define.
  • The government might impose some kind of tax, financial or otherwise, on those who disseminate such theories.
  • The government might itself engage in counter-speech, marshaling arguments to discredit conspiracy theories.
  • The government might formally hire credible private parties to engage in counter-speech.
  • The government might engage in informal communication with such parties, encouraging them to help.


In 1992, Sunstein stated that the office of the U.S. presidency should be elevated to a position higher than that of the president's administration generally, and that the Constitution should be viewed as a "living," evolving document:

"Now, it is alarming to people who want to believe in the unitary executive, like me, that the 19th-century writers thought this was self-evident. [The unitary executive theory holds that a powerful president controls the entire executive branch.] That's the policy recommendation and the conclusion that the Constitution is largely, not entirely, but largely irrelevant. Now, I say what I've said about the Constitutional matter with considerable regret. I wish it weren't so. The executive department's vision of the Constitution, with the president on top and the administration below, has elegance and simplicity and tremendous appeal. It would make much more sense, I submit, given our current situation, to have a Constitution in which the president is on top and the administration is below. But that was not the founder's original conception. The Constitution does not speak in those terms…. Because the conclusion that I've reached seems to me so unfortunate, I'm trying hard to figure out what can be done about it…. One thing that perhaps can be done about it is to say, well, we shouldn't really be originalists about the meaning of the Constitution. Maybe Judge Bork had it wrong. Maybe we should think that the Constitution has a high degree of flexibility. Maybe it's a changing and living document. Now, under that conception of Constitutional interpretation, maybe we can have the ingredients of a new unitary executive idea."[1]

In 2004, Sunstein published The Second Bill of Rights: FDR's Unfinished Revolution and Why We Need It More than Ever. In the book, Sunstein puts forth the argument that citizens’ rights exist only to the extent that they are granted by the government. The book drew its inspiration from President Franklin Roosevelt's 1944 proposal of a new Bill of Rights. The following precepts are promoted in the book:

  • The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation;
  • The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;
  • The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;
  • The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;
  • The right of every family to a decent home;
  • The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;
  • The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident and unemployment;
  • The right to a good education.

In The Second Bill of Rights, Sunstein states that "if the nation becomes committed to certain rights [such as the foregoing], they may migrate into the Constitution itself." He points out that "at a minimum, the second bill should be seen as part and parcel of America's constitutive commitments." Consider this quote:

“Much of the time, the United States seems to have embraced a confused and pernicious form of individualism. This approach endorses rights of private property and freedom of contract, and respects political liberty, but claims to distrust ‘government intervention’ and insists that people must fend for themselves. This form of so-called individualism is incoherent, a tangle of confusions.” (p. 3)[1]



First Amendment

In his book Democracy and the Problem of Free Speech, Sunstein says there is a need to reformulate First Amendment law. He thinks that the current formulation, based on Justice Holmes' conception of free speech as a marketplace “disserves the aspirations of those who wrote America’s founding document.”[9] The purpose of this reformulation would be to “reinvigorate processes of democratic deliberation, by ensuring greater attention to public issues and greater diversity of views.”[10] He is concerned by the present “situation in which like-minded people speak or listen mostly to one another,”[11] and thinks that in “light of astonishing economic and technological changes, we must doubt whether, as interpreted, the constitutional guarantee of free speech is adequately serving democratic goals.”[12] He proposes a “New Deal for speech [that] would draw on Justice Brandeis' insistence on the role of free speech in promoting political deliberation and citizenship.”

Information Control

Sunstein's 2006 book, Infotopia: How Many Minds Produce Knowledge, explores methods for aggregating information; it contains discussions of prediction markets, open-source software and wikis.[4]


His 2001 book,, argued that the Internet may weaken democracy because it allows citizens to isolate themselves within groups that share their own views and experiences and thus cut themselves off from any information that might challenge their beliefs. A phenomenon known as cyberbalkanization.[4] He claims this is a phenomenon whereby people isolate themselves ideologically within groups that share their own political perspectives, while turning a blind eye to any views or facts that might challenge their beliefs. To counter this tendency, Sunstein called for government-imposed diversity on websites promoting a particular political perspective. Specifically, he suggested that all partisan websites should feature “electronic sidewalks” providing links to resources that offer opposing views. In a 2001 interview, he elaborated:

"Sites of one point of view [would] agree to provide links to other sites, so that if you're reading a conservative magazine, they would provide a link to a liberal site and vice versa, just to make it easy for people to get access to competing views. Or maybe a pop-up on your screen that would show an advertisement or maybe even a quick argument for a competing view. [break] The best would be for this to be done voluntarily, but the word 'voluntary' is a little complicated, and sometimes people don't do what's best for our society unless Congress holds hearings or unless the public demands it. And the idea would be to have a legal mandate as the last resort, and to make sure it's as neutral as possible if we have to get there, but to have that as, you know, an ultimate weapon designed to encourage people to do better."

Several years later, Sunstein retracted this suggestion as a "bad idea."[1]

Fairness Doctrine

Uncovered: Obama's Regulatory Czar Creepy Plan for Legally Controlling the Internet, May 19, 2010

In The Partial Constitution, Sunstein puts forth the concept of a "First Amendment New Deal" in the form of a new "Fairness Doctrine" that would put together and legitimize a panel of "nonpartisan experts" to ensure that a "diversity of view[s]" is presented in the media.[1]

Per Sunstein, private broadcasting companies do a disservice to the American public by airing programs only if their ratings are high enough, or airing commercials only if advertisers can afford to pay the cost of a brief segmented spot:

"In a market system, this goal [of airing diverse views] may be compromised. It is hardly clear that 'the freedom of speech' is promoted by a regime in which people are permitted to speak only if other people are willing to pay enough to allow them to be heard."

"If it were necessary to bring about diversity and attention to public matters," Sunstein writes, "a private right of access to the media might even be constitutionally compelled. The notion that access [to the airwaves] will be a product of the marketplace might well be constitutionally troublesome." Government, he says, has a moral obligation to force broadcast media companies to air commercials that represent a "diversity" of views:

"The idea that government should be neutral among all forms of speech seems right in the abstract, but as frequently applied it is no more plausible than the idea that it should be neutral between the associational interests of blacks and those of whites under conditions of segregation."

Further, Sunstein argues that the judicial system should issue rulings to make it clear that private media companies do not have the final say in rejecting "diversity" commercials.

Positing that government regulation of the broadcasting industry is consistent with the spirit of the Constitution, Sunstein writes: "It seems quite possible that a law that contained regulatory remedies would promote rather than undermine the 'freedom of speech.'" Sunstein proposes "compulsory public-affairs programming [and] content review by nonpartisan experts or guidelines to encourage attention to public issues and diversity of view."

Reasoning from the premise that public television stations provide benefits to society that profit-driven private enterprises do not, Sunstein calls for a government mandate that "purely commercial [television] stations provide financial subsidies to public television or to commercial stations that agree to provide less-profitable but high-quality programming."


From 2006 through 2008, Libya undertook a massive PR campaign in the US. The paper attached to this effort was entitled, "The Project to Enhance the Profile of Libya and Moammar Gadhafi."[13]

From The Blaze:

It reads like Libyan government propaganda, extolling the importance of Moammar Gadhafi, his theories on democracy, and his “core ideas on individual freedom.’’
But the 22-page proposal for a book on Khadafy was written by Monitor Group, a Cambridge-based consultant firm founded by Harvard professors. The management consulting firm received $250,000 a month from the Libyan government from 2006 to 2008 for a wide range of services, including writing the book proposal, bringing prominent academics to Libya to meet Khadafy “to enhance international appreciation of Libya’’ and trying to generate positive news coverage of the country.
“The really nefarious aspect of this is that it reinforced in Khadafy’s mind that he truly was an international intellectual world figure, and that his ideas of democracy were to be taken seriously,’’ said Dirk Vandewalle, associate professor at Dartmouth College and author of “A History of Modern Libya.’’

The Monitor Group is a global management consulting firm. They provide advisory services to senior management of businesses, governments and social-sector organizations in the areas of business strategy, capability building and capital services. The Monitor Group also wanted to publish a book about Libya based on a series of conversations between Moammar Gadhafi and 'renowned expert visitors.' In this new project, Cass Sunstein was slated as one of the new experts that would meet with Gadhafi.[14] The Monitor Group has also spoken with philanthropist George Soros about ways to "advocate on Libya's behalf."


In a recent book, Sunstein proposes that government recognition of marriage be discontinued. "Under our proposal, the word marriage would no longer appear in any laws, and marriage licenses would no longer be offered or recognized by any level of government," argues Sunstein. He continues, "the only legal status states would confer on couples would be a civil union, which would be a domestic partnership agreement between any two people." He goes on further, "Governments would not be asked to endorse any particular relationships by conferring on them the term marriage," and refers to state-recognized marriage as an "official license scheme."[15]


In 2002, at the height of controversy over Bush's creation of military commissions without Congressional approval, Sunstein stepped forward to insist that "U[nder existing law, President George W. Bush has the legal authority to use military commissions" and that "President Bush's choice stands on firm legal ground." Sunstein scorned as "ludicrous" the argument from Law Professor George Fletcher that the Supreme Court would find Bush's military commissions without any legal basis.[4]

National Security

Organ Donation

In Sunstein's book Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness, he and co-author Richard Thaler covered different ways to increase the number of organ donations that Americans make each year. They theorized that the main reason why more people do not arrange to donate their organs posthumously is because in order to do so, they are required to actively give “explicit consent” for such procedures, which few people ever take the time to do. To remedy this, Sunstein and Thaler advocate a policy of “presumed consent” - the opposite of explicit consent - whereby the government would “presume” that someone has consented to having his or her organs removed for transplantation unless that person has explicitly indicated his or her wish to prevent such an action.[1]

However, Sunstein realized this move would be extremely unpopular. Thus the authors propose an alternate solution - “mandated choice” - where the government forces all people to make a decision on the matter:

“With mandated choice, renewal of your driver’s license would be accompanied by a requirement that you check a box stating your organ donation preferences. Your application would not be accepted unless you had checked one of the boxes.”

Under such a system, government “incentives and nudges” would replace “requirements and bans.”


In his research on risk regulation, Sunstein is known for developing, together with Timur Kuran, the concept of availability cascades, wherein popular discussion of an idea is self-feeding and causes individuals to overweight its importance.[4]

Sunstein co-authored Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness (Yale University Press, 2008) with economist Richard Thaler of the University of Chicago. Nudge discusses how public and private organizations can help people make what Sunstein deems 'better choices' in their daily lives - this is done through regulation. Thaler and Sunstein argue that:

People often make poor choices – and look back at them with bafflement! We do this because as human beings, we all are susceptible to a wide array of routine biases that can lead to an equally wide array of embarrassing blunders in education, personal finance, health care, mortgages and credit cards, happiness, and even the planet itself.

The ideas in the book proved popular with politicians such as U.S. President Barack Obama, British Prime Minister David Cameron and the British Conservative Party in general. The "Nudge" principle has been highly criticized. Dr. Tammy Boyce of public health foundation The King's Fund has said:

We need to move away from short-term, politically motivated initiatives such as the 'nudging people' idea, which are not based on any good evidence and don't help people make long-term behavior changes.[4]

In 2008, Sunstein said the following about why he favored the establishment of a government that could "nudge" people's behavior in certain desired directions:[1]

  • "The nanny state ... in a way is underrated, so long as there aren't mandates."
  • "We [Sunstein and Thaler] think that there's a little Homer Simpson in all of us; that sometimes we have self-control problems; sometimes we're impulsive; and that in these circumstances, both private and public institutions, without coercing, can make our lives a lot better."
  • "Once we know that people are human and there's some Homer Simpson in them, then there's a lot that can be done to manipulate them."


In 1998 Sunstein said that "a progressive consumption tax would be a really good thing" that "hardly anyone would be hurt by."[1]

Also in 1998, Sunstein said the following in regards to socialism and taxation:

"I don't have anything good to say about socialism in the abstract. If what's understood by socialism is efforts to insure that people don't live under desperate conditions, well, you know, Roosevelt and Madison and Jefferson were all socialists. I think that … these abstractions often can just create holy wars where people might really be able to be in agreement...
"If what socialism means is public ownership of the means of production, I think that is a recipe for economic disaster and democratic failure of the worst kind. The socialist ideal, which [dates] back to Aristotle, of human flourishing, is, that's great. That's Roosevelt's ideal. And Johnson's too, and Dewey's...
"Economic equality is a dangerous ideal and something that people should be frightened of, and not happy about. But …. if what you mean by economic equality is floors for everybody and ceilings for everybody, well, floors, absolutely. Ceilings? Probably. A consumption tax. Certainly a consumption ceiling. Great."

Sunstein has argued, “We should celebrate tax day.” Sunstein argues that since government (in the form of police, fire departments, insured banks and courts) protects and preserves property and liberty, individuals should happily finance it with their tax dollars instead of complaining:[16]

In what sense is the money in our pockets and bank accounts fully ‘ours’? Did we earn it by our own autonomous efforts? Could we have inherited it without the assistance of probate courts? Do we save it without the support of bank regulators? Could we spend it if there were no public officials to coordinate the efforts and pool the resources of the community in which we live? Without taxes, there would be no liberty. Without taxes there would be no property. Without taxes, few of us would have any assets worth defending. [It is] a dim fiction that some people enjoy and exercise their rights without placing any burden whatsoever on the public… There is no liberty without dependency.

Sunstein goes on to say:

If government could not intervene effectively, none of the individual rights to which Americans have become accustomed could be reliably protected. [...] This is why the overused distinction between "negative" and "positive" rights makes little sense. Rights to private property, freedom of speech, immunity from police abuse, contractual liberty and free exercise of religion—just as much as rights to Social Security, Medicare and food stamps—are taxpayer-funded and government-managed social services designed to improve collective and individual well-being.

Wealth Redistribution

Sunstein has spoke at length concerning the expantion of welfare benefits and redistributing wealth in the United States, but he holds that the country's "white majority" opposes such a development because of deep-seated racism:[1]

"The absence of a European-style social welfare state is certainly connected with the widespread perception among the white majority that the relevant programs would disproportionately benefit African Americans (and more recently Hispanics)."

Sunstein portrays socialist nations as being more committed than their capitalist counterparts to the welfare of their own citizens:

"During the Cold War, the debate about [social welfare] guarantees took the form of pervasive disagreement between the United States and its communist adversaries. Americans emphasized the importance of civil and political liberties, above all free speech and freedom of religion, while communist nations stressed the right to a job, health care and a social minimum."

External links


  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 Cass Sunstein Discover the Networks
  2. Facing Animals Google, 2008
  3. The Law School of University of Chicago, July 22, 2009
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 Cass Sunstein Wikipedia
  5. Conspiracy Theories Social Science Research Network, Jan. 15, 2008
  6. Stealth Propaganda John Stossel's Take, Jan. 18, 2010
  7. Obama confidant's spine-chilling proposal Glenn Greenwald/Salon, Jan. 15, 2010
  8. Study Guide: Unions, protests, gov’t shutdowns, and more Glenn Beck, Feb. 21, 2011
  9. Cass R. Sunstein, Democracy and the Problem of Free Speech, The Free Press, 1995, p. 119e
  10. Cass R. Sunstein, Democracy and the Problem of Free Speech, The Free Press, 1995, p. 119
  11. Cass Sunstein, 2.0 (Princeton University Press, 2007), p. xii
  12. Cass R. Sunstein, Democracy and the Problem of Free Speech, The Free Press, 1995, p. xi
  13. Hillary's close adviser caught in Libya scandal WorldNetDaily, Mar. 10, 2011
  14. How To Make Gadhafi Look Good, By Various Lobbyists The Huffington Post, Feb. 23, 2011
  15. Thaler, Richard H.; Sunstein, Cass R. (2008). Nudge: improving decisions about health, wealth, and happiness. Chapter 15: Privatizing Marriage: Caravan Books. pp. 215–228
  16. Stephan Holmes & Cass R. Sunstein, Why We Should Celebrate Paying Taxes Chicago Tribune, April 14, 1999